January 1, 2014
Best Books of 2013
2013 was an excellent year of reading for me, one of the best in recent memory. I read 111 books last year, finally surpassing 100, my goal since I started keeping track of my books each year.
Normally, I list my favorite books in the order that I read them, but last year was a year in which I discovered some new (to me) authors, so I’m going to start with these wonderful writers.
First, I discovered Susanna Kearsley, writer of time-slip historical love stories. Her books are beautifully written with wonderful characters, in interesting historical time periods, and clever ways of getting modern-day heroines to discover or re-live past events. The books I read by Susanna Kearsley this year were The Rose Garden, The Winter Sea, Shadowy Horses, The Firebird, and Mariana. Mariana is probably my favorite although it is a close call with The Winter Sea, which you need to read before The Firebird which is perhaps in third place. Or maybe it’s a three-way tie. Wonderful, wonderful books that leave you floating on a cloud of contentment. The emotion I felt at the end of Mariana was so powerful I actually burst into tears, I was so overwhelmed. She’s still alive and writing, and I’ll be reading everything she publishes.
Next, I discovered Georgette Heyer, a writer who published in the 1930s-1960s. Her books are Regency “romances” and I use that term to show that the love story is central plot but neither Kearsley nor Heyer have detailed sex scenes and they are not “sleazy” romances. Heyer’s books are hysterically funny, and nearly always involve getting the heroine and her love interest into a tangle that seems impossible to unwind. The situations are clever and funny – they remind me of Shakespeare comedies or 18th century French drama. I read everything our public library had by Heyer and got some for my Nook as well: These are her books I read in 2013: April Lady, Sprig Muslin, The Nonesuch, Arabella, Bath Tangle, Black Sheep, The Corinthian, A Civil Contract, Cotillion, Frederica, Friday’s Child, The Grand Sophy, The Reluctant Widow, Sylvester, The Unknown Ajax, The Black Moth, and Envious Casca. I read them so fast, one after another, that I can’t remember which is which. I most likely will re-read some of them. What a pleasant thought!
Marissa Meyer is the other author I discovered this year. She doesn’t have a lot of books under her belt (she’s younger than me by quite a bit), but what she’s written so far is spectacular. She is the author of the Lunar Chronicles. The first book in the series is Cinder, a science-fiction re-telling of the Cinderella story. The second book is Scarlet, which continues the Cinderella story while adding elements of the Little Red Riding Hood story. These books are aimed at the female young adult market, but if you don’t read them because of that, you are missing out. My boys and husband enjoyed them. Fast-paced, funny, and really, really clever. The third book of the Lunar Chronicles comes out in February. Cress adds a Rapunzel-like character to the story. The final book of the series is Winter and won’t be released until 2015. When she’s finished with the Lunar Chronicles, I’ve read that Meyer is under contract to write the story of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. She’s an incredibly talented writer. I can’t wait to follow her career.
As this blog has started to go long, I’m attempting one-sentence summaries for the rest of the books.
Other Young Adult titles that made my list:
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Can a book about teens dying of cancer be funny and uplifting? Yes, it can.
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by by Mary E. Pearson
In the near future, a dying teen is given new life, illegally, by her parents who save ten percent of her original brain and put it into a fabricated, superior body. Deep philosophical questions about self and morality handled in an exciting story.
Children’s books. Don’t overlook a book because it is intended for children. Some of the best books I read each year are marketed to children but are worthy of an adult audience.
Splendors and Gloom by Laura Amy Schlitz
Historical fantasy set in 19th century London pitting orphans and a rich girl against a sorcerer puppeteer and an enchantress. Exciting and clever. A Newbery Honor book.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is a captive gorilla who gives a death-bed promise to save a baby elephant. This book is so beautiful that I am almost in tears remembering it. The first-person voice of Ivan is brilliantly constructed. 2013 Newbery Award winner.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
What happens when a squirrel survives being vacuumed? It gets superpowers, of course. DiCamillo wins again with quirky characters and creative storytelling, incorporating protagonist Flora’s favorite comic book format into parts of the action.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
When her father goes missing and robbers destroy their home, a young girl tries to solve the mystery from the homeless shelter where they now live. Mix in clever clues and the poetry of Langston Hughes, and you’ve got a book that is gripping, smart, and eye-opening.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
I re-read this twice a year with the my children’s literature class and it gets better with every reading. If you’ve never read it, you should. The 19th century language takes a little getting used to, but the story is a classic for a reason. Long John Silver is a brilliantly created character and if the plot twists are easy to follow it’s only because they’ve been copied by other writers for the past 150 years.
A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
This book was criticized by many, but I found the writing incredible. Rowling’s characters are brilliantly drawn and there are so many of them! The story itself is hard to read because of the painfully honest way she portrays everyday personal conflict. It isn’t Harry Potter, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Taken on its own terms, it is very nearly perfect.
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
In the late 19th century, three sisters try to survive on the meager wages they earn in the ballet school of the Paris Opera. Each of them has different dreams and designs for achieving them. Their characters are well drawn and intriguing. Dance, pain and poverty, love and sex, and finally, a murder, make this a gripping read.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
This is the story of the servants who work for the Bennet family of Pride and Prejudice. Austen’s story is but a shadow against this new novel, mirroring, only slightly, the events taking place among the servants. The story could have been dark and bitter, profiling as it does the difficult lives of the lower class, but Baker makes clear that love and hope exist for everyone.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
This story is narrated by the 13-year-old son of a Native American who is brutally raped not far from home. His parents disappear as parents and the boy seeks to understand the crime, discover the criminal, and revenge his mother. Erdrich so perfectly captures the mind and actions of a teenage boy. Painful, gripping, exquisitely written.
Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
As I was reading, I thought it was one of the best books of the year. It is a dual time period piece following a modern-day character who must discover if he is a descendant of a certain woman in order to inherit a fortune—but he must discover this in a certain time period. The other story follows the beautiful but doomed love story of the woman who might be his great-grandmother. Fast-paced story, intriguing characters, absolutely horrible ending. Or is it? I wanted so much to talk to someone about the ending, but nobody I know has read this book. So, read this fascinating story and let me know what YOU think of the ending.
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
This isn’t the most well-written book, but I found it utterly fascinating. In his auto-biography, Daniel Tammet, an autistic-savant and a synesthete who recited 22,514 digits of pi and who was able to learn the Icelandic language in a week, writes about his life, his abilities and his disabilities.
Well, my summaries lengthened as I wrote, but I guess that’s OK. I hope I’m given you some titles for your TBR pile. Let me know what you think.
Wishing you a happy New Year and a 2014 full of good reading!